Top critical review
15 people found this helpful
on 20 November 2011
The End of Mr. Y is a philosophical thriller. I don't think it is a coincidence that Ariel Manto, the protagonist, is writing her PhD thesis on thought experiments or that we are told that "all thought experiments are stories." Ariel is a huge fan of the postmodern French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Parts of his thought, along with bits of Heidegger and Baudrillard, are to be found throughout the book.
The story is straightforward enough. By chance, Ariel stumbles upon a very rare copy of the 19th century novel The End of Mr. Y by the Victorian eccentric Thomas Lumas. Lumas--I should point out that he is fictional--is remembered, if at all, mainly for once having punched Charles Darwin. The book allows Ariel to enter the Troposphere, or MindSpace, where she can access all consciousness. She enters through a tunnel of written symbols, suggesting that all consciousness is based on language. (If I have understood this correctly, this implies a contradiction in the premises of the story. If consciousness is founded on language, why does the Troposphere allow Ariel to enter the minds of speechless creatures like mice?) She is then pursued by evil ex-CIA agents, who want to sell the secret formula.
I wasn't that impressed by the book. It is not that I strongly disapprove of Derrida or Heidegger. The story just isn't that exciting. I have read several books by Philip K. Dick and most of Haruki Murakami. They, too, are writers who deal with the mysteries of mind, consciousness, and reality, and they often find ways to make the narrative more compelling. I am not suggesting that Scarlett Thomas has attempted to write the same kind of story. I am merely pointing out that other authors have entered the same general territory and managed to write better fiction.
One reason that I didn't find the story that compelling is the fictional narrator herself. Ariel Manto isn't a very enticing person. She exudes a certain smugness that I find jarring. If you like, you could call her "poststructurally correct" or something to the same effect. I can't escape the feeling that she looks down on people who don't share her philosophical outlook, like the evolutionary biologist Heather. At a crucial stage of the story, she finds the time to make a digression concerning why she disapproves of all world religions.
All in all, The End of Mr. Y is not a bad book. I just didn't find that is was quite as great as many others seem to have.